The Many Hats of Sting: Rock and Roll’s ‘Englishman in New York’
By Markos Papadatos
Sting is a world-renowned composer, best-selling singer-songwriter, actor, producer author, philanthropist, and activist. He sat down and chatted with Markos Papadatos prior to Shaggy’s “Com Fly Wid Me” album release party, which he hosted, at the iconic Blue Note Jazz Club in the heart of New York City.
American track and field legend Jesse Owens once said: “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” Sting is a multifaceted entertainer and individual that embodies this wise quote by the late four-time Olympic gold medalist.
He was born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner in Newcastle, England, prior to moving to London in 1977 to form The Police with his fellow band members Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. An esteemed English rock band, The Police released five studio albums, earned six Grammy Awards, and two Brit Awards, and were inducted into the coveted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2003 in the “Performers” category. “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction felt fine,” Sting said. “It’s a museum, and I feel like I have been stuffed and stuck in a corner,” he said with a sweet laugh. The Police were able to put a reggae-infused twist on new wave music. What truly set the Police apart from the other post-punk bands was their musical mastery. They put their prowess to the test, unafraid of maturing and pushing their limits.
Sting has garnered an additional 11 Grammy Awards (for his solo musical work), two Brit Awards, one Golden Globe Award, an Emmy Award, four Oscar nominations, a Tony nomination, Billboard Magazine’s “Century Award,” and he was named MusiCares’ 2004 “Person of the Year.” In 2003, he was honored as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II herself for his illustrious contributions to the music industry; moreover, Sting is an inductee of the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame, and he is a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, along with the American Music Award (AMA) of Merit and the Polar Music Prize. He has also been awarded Honorary Doctorates of Music by the University of Northumbria in 1992, the Berklee College of Music in 1994, the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 2006, and more recently, Brown University at its 250th Commencement ceremony in 2018. Resoundingly, all of these awards, honors, and accolades are his peers in the music business and fans around the globe telling the veteran crooner, “We love you, Sting!” Throughout his respected career in the music and entertainment business, he has sold over 100 million albums from his combined work with The Police and as a solo recording artist.
On his career-defining moments, Sting reflected, “Of course, there have been many. I can’t think of one. For me, it is all about not being bored. I constantly need novelty, and I constantly need something new and surprising. It’s all about surprise. I want to surprise myself and I want to surprise the audience.”
In 2019, he released his album “My Songs,” which featured contemporary interpretations of some of his most celebrated hits. It was followed by a world tour of the same name, which recently resumed in the fall of 2021.
Speaking of Sting’s “My Songs” World Tour, it is a dynamic and exuberant live show that truly takes his audience on a musical journey. It features some of his most beloved songs that span his hallowed career with The Police and as a solo artist.
His latest album, “The Bridge” displays his prolific and diverse songwriting prowess, and it marks his 15th solo studio offering. It represents a wide spectrum of stages and styles from throughout his unrivaled career and it draws inspiration from such diverse genres including rock and roll, jazz, classical music, and folk. In addition, “The Bridge” features Sting’s quintessential sound on pop-rock tracks such as the album’s opening rock anthem “Rushing Water,” and the indie-pop sounding “If It’s Love.”
On October 29, Sting kicked off his Las Vegas residency titled “My Songs” at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. The show presents a collection of his most popular and beloved songs with dynamic, visual references to some of his most iconic videos and inspirations with Sting treating fans to an array of greatest hits spanning his illustrious career. These greatest hits include “Roxanne,” “Message In A Bottle,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Every Breath You Take” and several other fan favorites, as well as brand new songs from “The Bridge.” His Las Vegas residency will resume in June of 2022. “Yes, I am about to start again this week, and it will last for a few weeks. Having done it last year, I feel very excited about the idea now even though I was a little apprehensive at first. Now, I am happy about it,” he said.
This Las Vegas residency is produced by the Cherrytree Music Company, Live Nation, and Caesars Entertainment. Sting is joined by a five-piece band that includes Dominic Miller on the guitar, Josh Freese on the drums, Rufus Miller on the guitar, Kevon Webster on the keyboards, Shane Sager on the harmonica, and background vocalists Melissa Musique and Gene Noble; moreover, the set and video design were created by 59 Productions.
Sting’s “My Songs” world tour recently resumed in Europe (in March of 2022), where he performed his most beloved songs with an electric rock ensemble.
Following his “57th & 9th” studio album, which was his first pop-rock collection in over a decade, he and reggae sensation, Shaggy, released a collaborative, island-influenced album, entitled “44/876,” drawing from the many surprising connections at the heart of their music. Both Shaggy and Sting are managed by the Cherrytree Music Company. With its title referencing their home country codes, “44/876,” first and foremost pays homage to the duo’s mutual love for Jamaica: Shaggy’s homeland, and the place where Sting penned such classics as The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”
“44/876” was a commercial success. It spent over 20 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Reggae Album chart in the United States, and it subsequently earned gold certifications in Poland and France and was bestowed the Grammy Award for “Best Reggae Album.” “Winning that Grammy was vindication because everyone thought ‘Sting and Shaggy, what on earth is that?’ It was a good vibe and good energy,” he said.
After their Grammy win for their collaborative album, “44/876”, music superstar Sting and reggae icon Shaggy have joined forces again for “Com Fly Wid Mi.” The new album, produced by Sting, features Shaggy singing the Frank Sinatra songbook in a reggae style. This album was released on May 25 on all digital platforms.
In an effort to celebrate Shaggy’s album release, a special limited access, and one night only performance took place at the iconic Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City on May 26, where Sting served as the host. “As always with Shaggy, it’s the most fun that you possibly have in a studio that’s legal,” he said about producing the new album for Shaggy. “We had a great time. The project was all about surprises. People are surprised to hear Shaggy singing these songs, and when you hear the album, you will smile. There is no doubt about it.”
Sting complimented the Blue Note Jazz Club in Manhattan for being a “historic venue” and he shared that “the most important element in music is surprise.” “This is a big surprise,” he admitted about his latest music effort with Shaggy, where they successfully tackle some of the greatest hits in Frank Sinatra’s catalog. “This record is a wonderful surprise too,” he confessed. “Shaggy and I went on tour around the world and we were in Oslo in Norway. We had a day off and we took a boat out in the fjord, and my intention was to go swimming. Shaggy said ‘Jamaicans don’t swim in Fjord’ so I dived in and realized that Shaggy was actually right,” he explained. “I heard Shaggy singing along to a CD and he was singing Frank Sinatra. I told him that he sounded good and he had the same voice type and range as Frank Sinatra, it’s a baritone tenor. Then, I had one of those ideas that was like a neon light above your head, and my idea was this ‘Shaggy Sings the Sinatra Songbook reggae style produced by yours truly.’ After a few drinks, I convinced my friend that it was not only a weird idea, it was a fantastic idea,” he expressed.
“Earlier this year, we got to a studio in Jamaica, and Capitol Studios in Los Angeles (where Frank Sinatra recorded a lot of this material) and in Shaggy’s home in Miami and we produced this record. I have to say that you will hear this thing and you will smile. You know the songs, you know his voice, he is not trying to sing like Frank Sinatra at all, he’s Shaggy, and he is in his own ecosystem of reggae music, and I love it,” he added.
Aside from being one of the world’s most distinctive solo artists, he is known as a perennial musical explorer and song stylist. The proof of that was his critically-acclaimed “Duets” album, which featured some of his most celebrated collaborations, including those with Mary J. Blige, Herbie Hancock, Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox, Charles Aznavour, Mylène Farmer, Shaggy, Melody Gardot, and Gashi, among others.
For Sting and The Police, their classic tune “Every Breath You Take” is the gift that keeps on giving. It was added to Spotify’s “Billions Club,” having accumulated well over one billion streams on the audio streaming platform.
In 2019, Sting was honored at the BMI Pop Awards for his enduring hit single “Every Breath You Take,” which has become the “Most Performed Song,” with 15 million radio plays, from BMI’s catalog of over 14 million musical works.
A 17-time Grammy award-winning artist, Sting is also a humanitarian and he supports causes that are near and dear to his heart. He supports such human rights organizations as the Rainforest Fund, Amnesty International, and Live Aid, which mirrors his art in its universal outreach.
Along with his wife, Trudie Styler, Sting founded the Rainforest Fund in 1989 to protect both the world’s rainforests and the indigenous people that are living there. Together they have held 19 benefit concerts to raise funds and awareness for our planet’s endangered resources.
Since its inception, the Rainforest Fund has expanded to a network of interconnected organizations working in more than 20 countries over three continents. The Rainforest Fund is a charitable nonprofit foundation that is dedicated to the support of indigenous peoples and traditional populations in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfill their rights.
Amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sting decided to unearth his 1985 song, “Russians,” which was inspired by the Cold War and originally appeared on his breakthrough solo studio album “The Dream of the Blue Turtles.” The net profits of “Russians” benefit Help Ukraine Center, a volunteer storage center established by Ukrainian business owners where humanitarian and medical aid can be sent from all over the world. The funds are processed through the German charity foundation, Ernst Prost, People for Peace – Peace for People. He described it as a “plea for our common humanity,” and rightfully so.
As an actor, Sting made a guest appearance as a fictionalized version of himself in the Hulu TV series “Only Murders in the Building,” which stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. He has appeared in over 15 films, executive produced the “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” and in 1989 starred in “The Threepenny Opera on Broadway.”
His most recent theatre project is the Tony-nominated musical “The Last Ship,” inspired by his memories of the shipbuilding community of Wallsend in the northeast of England where he was born and raised. The show, with music and lyrics by Sting, ran on Broadway in 2014 and 2015 and completed a UK regional theatre tour which ran from March to July of 2018. Thereafter, Sting starred as shipyard foreman Jackie White in the Toronto-based production of “The Last Ship” at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
In 2020, Sting reprised the role for productions in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre and San Francisco at the Golden Gate Theatre.
If Sting were to have any superpower, he revealed that it would be “singing.”
On the title of the current chapter of his life, he responded, “Gratitude.”
Sting defined the word success simply as “doing it again.”
For fans and listeners, Sting concluded about the new Shaggy album “Com Fly Wid Me,” “I want them to get smiles. I think the world needs a smile at the moment, definitely.”
He once said the following motivational quote: “If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul, heal your wounds and make your life worth living. Music is its own reward.” This sums everything up.
Sting’s distinguished career and life story are an inspiration to us all, he is a man that was able to go beyond the ordinary, and he was able to expand and redefine contemporary singing, songwriting, and storytelling. It is evident that he will go down in history as one of the greatest artists that music has ever known. He was able to mold the contemporary music landscape into what it is today, and most importantly, he was able to touch his global audience on an emotional level through his music. Long live, Rock and Roll’s “Englishman in New York.”